BJP president Amit Shah on Monday announced Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as the Presidential candidate of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The choice of the 70-year old Dalit leader, who belongs to Kanpur, came as a surprise pick from the party.
Refusing to comment on Kovind’s candidature, Congress accused the BJP of “unilaterally” taking the decision. “Unilaterally they (BJP) took a decision, but it is up to them. One of our colleague said it was a PR exercise… Without revealing the name how will you build a consensus? On the presidential nominee announced by the NDA, we have nothing to say. We don’t want to comment on the merits and demerits of the candidate…The opposition was given to understand that they will be taken into confidence,” Congress spokesperson Ghulam Nabi Azad said.
CPI (M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury termed the selection of Dalit leader Ram Nath Kovind was a political decision by the NDA. Speaking to ANI, Yechury said,” Ram Nath Kovind ji RSS ke Dalit sakha ke pramukh thay, wo ek rajneeti hua na. Ye seedhi seedhi rajneetik takrao hai (Ram Nath Kovind was the president of the Dalit wing of RSS. This seems like a direct political clash).”
“Opposition parties are meeting on July 22. Only once in history of independent India has the president of India been elected uncontested,” the CPI (M) leader added.
Expressing surprise at the NDA’s choice, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee joined the chorus saying there are “other big Dalit leaders” in the country. “I am not for a moment saying that the Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind is unfit to be the President. There are other big Dalit leaders in India. He was leader of Dalit Morcha of BJP, so they have made him candidate. I have spoken to two or three other Opposition leaders, they are also surprised,” she said.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, however, was the lone voice in the Opposition who did not express any reservations against Kovind’s candidature. “Matter of happiness for me personally. As far as support is concerned, can’t say anything right now. it is too early to say. He has done exemplary work (as Governor of Bihar), worked with impartiality, maintained an ideal relationship with the state government,” he said.
Meanwhile, NDA partner Shiv Sena said Kovind’s name was not discussed with the allies.
“The name of Ram Nath Kovind was not suggested earlier. We found out the name when it was announced at the press conference,” Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut told NDTV. He further questioned the need to hold meeting with allies if BJP did not wish to discuss the name with them. “Why was the name not discussed with the allies?” Raut was quoted by NDTV as saying. He further added that party president Uddhav Thackeray will hold a rally in the evening to announce the party’s decision.
Thackeray will hold a mega rally in Mumbai at around 8 pm on Monday where he will announce Shiv Sena’s reaction on NDA’s presidential pick. The party, in last few weeks, was pushing the name of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat for the position.
In south, Telangana Chief Minister and TRS Chief K Chandrasekhar Rao extended his support to NDA’s presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind after speaking to PM Modi. The prime minister also reached out to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh to seek its support for Kovind. PM Modi also spoke to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu and Tamil Nadu CM E Palaniswamy over NDA’s presidential candidate pick, ANI reported.
JDU leader Sharad Yadav said the opposition will decide its candidate after the meeting. Speaking to ANI, “The Opposition will hold a meeting. We will also think about discuss and think over the Presidential candidate announced by NDA,” he said. The opposition parties will hold a meting on June 22, news agency ANI reported.
Reacting to the nomination of Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA candidate for the Presidential elections, BSP chief Mayawati said that it would have been better if the NDA had nominated a “non-political” Dalit name. “As he is a Dalit we are positive on his nomination,” Mayawati was quoted as saying by ANI. “We are also of the opinion that it would have been better if NDA had named a non-political Dalit person as President nominee,” she added.
While Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee disapproved of BJP’s choice of presidential nominee, saying, “In order to support someone, we must know the person. Candidate should be someone who will be beneficial for the country. I am not for a moment saying that the Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind is unfit to be the President. I have spoken to 2 or 3 other Opposition leaders, they are also surprised. There are other big Dalit leaders in the country. Just because he was the leader of Dalit Morcha of BJP they have made him the candidate.”